This wireless device is designed to stimulate natural tear production in patients with dry eye. (Credit: Michael Ackermann)
A Stanford University fellow developed implantable neurostimulators
to create tears for people who suffer from dry eye
The devices, a little larger than a fingernail, work in pairs. One is inserted into the mucous membrane in the patient’s nasal cavity, and the other under the skin below the eyebrow, using a large-gauge needle in a doctor’s office. Once implanted, the device stimulates the lacrimal gland with micro-electrical pulses. Patients can then use a wireless controller to adjust the frequency of their tears.
Michael Ackermann, PhD, and his team of two bioengineering students, Brandon Felkins and Garrett Smith, and board-certified surgeon Victor McCray, PhD, identified the need for the device during a Stanford Biodesign
-sponsored study at an ophthalmology practice.
Dry eye affected about every third patient, and ranged from an inconvenience to a serious malady that could cause abrasions of the cornea, they said. Existing treatments showed a high dropout rate and treated symptoms rather than the root cause.
The original design for the device was “a large implanted device with a wire coming up inside the neck, similar to a pacemaker,” Ackermann said in an interview with Stanford University. But after negative feedback from ophthalmologists, the team started work on much smaller models.
In late 2011, Ackermann founded a startup called Oculeve to market the product. The venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers helped Oculeve find investors, and, in 2011, prototypes of the neurostimulator were tested for safety in animals.
Oculeve is now a 20-person company putting their wireless tear generator through regulatory approvals. If successful, a new treatment for dry eye could hit the market.
For information about future clinical trials of Oculeve, visit clinicaltrials.gov.